HC Deb 12 November 1954 vol 532 cc1632-44

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. R. Thompson.]

3.54 p.m.

Dr. Barnet Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

My purpose in bringing before the House this afternoon the question of recruitment to the Factory Inspectorate is twofold. First, I wish to draw attention to the serious shortage of new entrants with suitable professional qualifications and technical experience and, secondly, to ask that the Ministry of Labour and National Service should at once find a remedy before the damage which I think has already been done to this essential body of civil servants goes beyond repair.

I would like to say at once, and I know the Parliamentary Secretary will agree with me, that our main purpose in discussing this matter is due to the fact that we know that behind the inspectorate are 8 million people who are served by the Factory Inspectorate. Therefore, I need hardly say that I am not primarily concerned with any individual or groups of individuals in the inspectorate so much as I am with all those who literally hold up our civilisation and who are so very well served by the inspectorate.

In the first place, I want to describe what pre-war recruitment was like, because without doing that I cannot draw comparison with the situation today. I should like to refer the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service to a statement in the Report of a Departmental Committee on the recruitment and qualifications of inspectors, which was issued in 1928. This Rives some guidance to the type of candidates needed.

On page 3 of the Civil Service Arbitration Report (185) dated 1st April, 1952, that statement is quoted as follows: As regards the qualifications of candidates, the existing regulations, which came into force in 1925, are that they must satisfy the (Civil Service) Commissioners that they have such experience and have received such systematic education, general or technical, or general and technical together, as in their opinion fits them for the post. That is the first observation.

The statement continues: In general, candidates should possess a University degree or other equivalent qualification in engineering, industry or science; but the Commissioners may dispense with such qualification in the case of a candidate with suitable works or other experience. The aim of these regulations would appear to be that, while candidates of good general education and ability should be eligible to compete, a substantial 'pull' should be given to those candidates who can show technical qualifications or suitable works or other special practical experience. I think that that was the attitude that was taken up, certainly as from 1928, but I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary would agree that we can go back very much further in pointing to the very high standard of those who entered and were employed by the Factory Inspectorate. Indeed, it was common knowledge all over the world that the standard was as high if not higher here than anywhere else.

Following this report, and after the outbreak of war, this standard was certainly maintained. Of 124 inspectors appointed between 1930 and 1940, 88 had university degrees or equivalent qualifications in engineering or in science and 27 had university degrees in other subjects. Only nine were without university degrees. In those days entry was certainly very competitive. There was never any difficulty in finding people who wished to enter and who had the right type of qualifications.

What has been the situation since then, and the recruitment since 1940? I find that between 1941 and 1954, a period of 14 years, only 18 appointments have been made of men and women who were graduates in science, that is to say, in engineering, chemistry or physics. Only one in eight who were appointed had ample technical qualifications, and only a few any significant industrial experience. This change has been made quite evident to the House as a result of answers given by the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary to those of us who have asked Questions. On 13th May this year the Minister told me that only seven out of the last 83 entrants were qualified with a scientific qualification. That is about one in 12.

On 27th July I asked what had happened to the last competition which, I think, was last December. I was told that only one graduate had been appointed, a graduate in chemistry—

It being Four o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. R. Thompson.]

Dr. Stross

I was saying that the right hon. and learned Gentleman told me that in the last entry examination they had only been able to appoint one inspector to the entry grade and he was a graduate in chemistry. This is a very serious situation and I am sure so far we are entirely on common ground.

Before the war two out of every three entrants were technically qualified, with a scientific degree as a rule, but now that has fallen to one in 12. I think, therefore, I may say that if this continues much longer there will be hardly anyone left in the 95 districts of the inspectorate who will be a technically trained inspector. The latest staffing figures I have been able to obtain show that of the 108 superintending and district inspectors in the country who were appointed before the war 66 hold technical degrees, or equivalent qualifications, but of the 183 other inspectors only 37 hold such qualifications. That makes it quite apparent that there has been a gross worsening of the situation.

Another figure which is astonishing is that 30 districts out of a total of 95 have not technically qualified staff whatsoever and only 18 districts have more than one technically qualified inspector. Faced with this situation, with which the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary are quite well conversant, an attempt has been made recently to offer technical education to some of the entrants. In September this year 12 inspectors were sent to a course at the College of Technology, at Leicester.

I asked a Question about this and gathered from the answer that the situation is as follows if we take into account tuition fees, subsistence allowance and travelling costs and add the salary of these men and women who are already on the staff, for the three terms-36 weeks—tuition in elementary chemistry, physics and electricity cost £630 per student per year. That means that about £7,500 has to be spent to give elementary education to 12 entrants.

I at once admit without any hesitation that this is better than nothing, but I cannot admit that three terms' education in science can compare with the education that is brought to the Department by a full graduate who, in addition, has had factory experience. The failure that is made apparent in recruitment of the type of entrants we used to have, shows itself to be expensive when this type of remedy is offered. What has caused this problem? Why this degradation in standard? Why this difficulty?

I say at once, and I hope I carry the Parliamentary Secretary with me, that salary scales are at fault. I will give two illustrations, one from the chief inspector's salary and one from scales of entry, to prove the points I am making. In 1938, the salary of a chief inspector could reach a maximum of £1,650 a year. In 1954, it could reach a maximum of £2,225, an increase of 35 per cent. In 1938, a chief inspector of mines and a chief inspector of taxes had a maximum of £1,650, and now the maximum is £2,750, an increase of 66 per cent. A chief inspector of education also had £1,650 as a maximum salary before the war, and his maximum now is £3,000. Therefore, in his case, the increase is 82 per cent. It would seem to me that, roughly, the increase is similar to that which Members of Parliament had compared with pre-war. Why is there this discrimination, 35 per cent. for chief inspectors of factories; 66 per cent. for mines and taxes and 82 per cent. for education, when before the war they were exactly alike?

The Parliamentary Secretary may not be able to agree with my next point, which is that quite a number of people find it curious that the Civil Service seems to discriminate against "pockets" of its personnel. I do not know why. Those of us who are interested in psychology know that the term "henpecking" is a psychological term and that, somehow or other, in many spheres of life it seems desirable that someone must go down so that everyone else may feel better off.

I suggest that we drive our Civil Service too far and too hard. Everyone knows that civil servants do not enter the Service merely for financial gain for they would be able, by and large, to do better outside. They enter the Service partly because of the prestige of the Service itself, which should be as high as possible —that is what we all desire—and partly because, in their service, they wish to do that which, to them, is something like social service as well as a method of earning a living.

This low rate for a chief inspector depresses the scales, including the entry scales which I will use for my next illustration. I accept, and everyone knows, that there is today a general scarcity of science graduates. The demand is high. All Departments compete with one another, and all the Departments together must compete with a greater demand for such graduates from outside industry. That we know. But when we look at the report from the Federation of British Industries on the shortage of science teachers, I think it is last year, it throws some light on the problem. It shows us that a graduate in chemistry in industry at the age of 24 earns an average of £605, whereas a factory inspector at the same age who will be—and certainly should be—similarly qualified, earns £515. There is, therefore, an appreciable difference.

I will quote one other figure for I have here the scales of many industries. We find that at the age of 27 in the works group the salary is £775, whereas for the factory inspector it is £615. I mention the age of 27 advisedly, because before the war the average age of entry was 27, although entry was allowed at 23. Today, we recruit at 21. I do not know what is the average age of entry today, but 21 is rather low and does not allow for very much outside experience after graduation. We are obviously taking them rather green and rather raw. This difference of £775 and £615 throws real light on the difference between the works group and the Factory Inspectorate.

Then there is a most interesting point. The Treasury submitted some evidence to the Civil Service Arbitration Tribunal on 14th July of last year. This evidence was to rebut a demand for increased remuneration by the works group. The Treasury, in its evidence, made what I think was a perfectly proper point. It used a certain argument why the works group should not have an increase. The argument was in three parts. The first was that the best way to test the validity of a claim was by reference to recruitment. It was said that if there is pressure to enter the Service that means that, obviously, there is no need to raise the scale.

The second point was that the recommendations of the Gardiner Committee scale which had been implemented, were responsible for giving ample recruitment to the works groups. There again, that was used as an argument for not giving any more pay. The third argument used by the Treasury was that the Tomlin formula test of comparative salaries in the Civil Service and similar posts outside had been fulfilled. This was a weighty argument, but the question I find interesting is why does not the Treasury apply these arguments to the Factory Inspectorate?

If we use the Tomlin formula, we find that the argument does not apply. If we consider the first argument, that the best way of testing the validity of the claim was by reference to recruitment, that also does not apply. I say at once—and I want to carry the Minister with me in this —that if a principle is used in rebutting a claim by the works group that same principle should apply to another branch of the Civil Service, such as the Factory Inspectorate. As the situation in the Factory Inspectorate cries out aloud that these three conditions, if applied by the Treasury, would demand an increase in the scales, why is it that we find that the Factory Inspectorate is so sadly underpaid, or do the Treasury want to accept full blame for the present unsatisfactory position?

I am attacking the Ministry of Labour and National Service, but I am in a position to know full well that it has not got complete and full power and, if it agrees with what I am saying, it must make representations in the proper place. We used to boast of having at our disposal the best Civil Service in the world. That was a boast which I think was allowed to us all over the world. Is not it shameful today that in Scandinavia, Holland and already in India, the standard for recruitment to the Factory Inspectorate is higher than it is here? I want to give the Parliamentary Secretary ample time in which to reply and, therefore, I will cut my speech rather short.

There has been some evidence given to the Royal Commission on the Civil Service. I have not got time to quote it, but I wish to refer to paragraph 60 of Chapter 2 on the "Principles of Remuneration," where it is said: Now the Factory inspectorate is incapable of attracting professionally qualified people to its ranks. What a shocking diminution in the standards of the Civil Service. What a threat to the reputation of the Civil Service of the future. My conclusions are that up to 1940 the inspectorate which was then part of the Home Office had a preponderance of technically qualified people. One of the greatest Ministers that we ever had, Mr. Ernest Bevin, who was then Minister of Labour, said on 22nd July, 1942: Happily, there is a very close understanding between the factory department and works managers. There is much in common between them, because to a very large extent they are trained from the same personnel, and, therefore, understand not only each other's problems but each other's approach to the problems."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1942; Vol. 382, c. 54.) I do not think we can say that now in the way we could say it then. The many arts students who are brought into the service because properly qualified men and women are not applying, cannot have the same approach and they are put into a very unfair position. The attempt to train them is very expensive and, on the whole, it is not a very satisfactory method.

The Ministry have failed over the last 14 years. Most of us know the reasons for it. I must again say that to have only 18 science graduates out of the scores which have been recruited over the last few years is not good enough and just does not enable the Factory Inspectorate to do all it would like to do to promote and maintain the health, welfare and safety of the nation's worker.

4.16 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

I thank the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) for raising this subject. It is not very often that the duties of the 360-odd members of the Factory Inspectorate feature in the proceedings of this House. This debate gives me an opportunity to say something about recruitment prospects.

I ought to begin by saying that on numbers of graduates alone—the hon. Member really conceded this in his argument—the position now is not very difficult. In a moment I will go into the question of the kinds of graduates. There were shortages in March, 1949, of 50; and in March, 1950, of 56; but by March, 1953, there were no vacancies at all, and at present there are only 13 vacancies.

The normal wastage is 15 to 20 a year and the normal intake is about a dozen successful candidates from open competitions twice a year. On grounds of figures alone, there is no great difficulty in keeping the cadre up to its full strength now. I do not say that to deny the difficulty, which is not so much recruitment as the technical ability and qualifications of those recruited. On the whole the factory department would like 50 per cent. of its members to be technically qualified, but the present figure is 36 per cent.

The outlook is not quite as alarming as the hon. Member painted it, but I agree that we are not recruiting sufficient personnel. The hon. Member was very fair about this. We have to bear in mind that conditions have changed even from the immediate pre-war years. At present, and probably in the foreseeable future, there is a terrific shortage of people with scientific and technical qualifications in British industry as a whole, quite apart from other Government Departments as well as the factory department. The main competition comes from industry, which is terribly short of these people. We face a much more difficult situation.

We are examining the organisation of the factory Department to determine whether some reorganisation of duties and some balancing-out of the technically trained people whom we command might be useful in the future. We have to accept that even pay conditions may not necessarily redress the balance.

Dr. Stross

Does the hon. Gentleman accept the fact that after the Gardiner Committee reported and its recommendations were accepted, the works group came right up to strength and had many more applications from fully-qualified people than it had previously been able to obtain?

Mr. Watkinson

I will come to that in a moment.

What I am emphasising is that certain industries, which are able to offer a great deal more to their personnel than we can offer the factory inspectors, are having difficulty in getting the men they want. We are examining, and shall continue to examine, the inspectorate with the idea not of cutting down the number of technically-trained people—for we want all that we can get—but of making the best possible use of the people we have got.

I wish to say one thing which answers the point about the works group. While we should like 50 per cent. of the inspectorate to be technically trained, the fact is that the work of the general inspectorate is not of a professional character. It has always been a great difficulty that, however one argues it, one cannot argue that its work is really of a professional character.

Take, for example, a trained chemist. In industry he performs work in his profession as a trained chemist. As a factory inspector he does not always do quite the same thing. That has been one of the difficult balancing arguments when a pay claim has come forward.

We may have to continue to make use of training arts graduates. This postwar training scheme is largely an experiment, and we shall have to see how it works out. But with the background of arts graduate training, which, after all, provides the right kind of mind and intelligence, there may be some way of getting over our temporary difficulties by doing more training of the people we take in—training both within the inspectorate and outside. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, that that cannot possibly be more than a temporary expedient, and in the end our long-term aim must be to raise the general level of recruitment.

I noticed that the hon. Gentleman said —and I agree with him—that people do not always come into the Civil Service for pay and financial reward. If they did, perhaps not very many people would come at all, because pay and financial reward are not very generous in many sections of the Service, and not only in the Factory Inspectorate. Therefore, if that is a factor in causing people to come into the Factory Inspectorate, I would say that the entrants to that inspectorate have a very fascinating and, I think, inspiring future to look forward to. We are on the threshold of a new industrial era, and the Factory Inspectorate will have changed responsibilities and changed duties to cope with.

There is, for example, the industrial use of atomic power, and, of course, the industrial use of radioactive substances, which mean a new technique of inspection, prevention and control. Yet another example is the increasing use of electronic control of industrial processes.

There has been a lot of talk lately about automatic factories. Automatic factories will still need factory inspection—perhaps to a higher degree in some cases—because of the great risks of a disastrous runaway if the automatic control system breaks down through not being properly looked after. For those who are looking on the factory inspectorate as a career, it is going to be a much more interesting and stimulating career in the future than it has ever been in the past—notwithstanding the very great past of the service in the last 120 years.

There is another new factor on the human aspect. I am sure we all agree that it is high time we paid much more attention to the prevention of disease in industry, instead of spending such a lot of money and wasting such a lot of human energy and causing so much sorrow, pain, and suffering in only trying to cure industrial diseases after they have been caused by bad or difficult working conditions. I know that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central is strongly with me on that aspect of the matter.

My right hon. and learned Friend announced in the House on Thursday that we are now taking very definite steps to try to provide an industrial health service to prevent disease in industry, instead of concentrating on curing it afterwards. That again will lay a new burden on the Factory Inspectorate, because it may, for example, involve looking carefully into working conditions in foundries and other places, with a view to improving conditions and preventing the causation of disease.

On the grounds of a rewarding career, on the grounds of doing a job which is of real benefit to one's fellow men, as well as of great interest, I do not think we could find a future that looks brighter and more hopeful than that offered by our Factory Inspectorate.

Having said that, I must come back to what I think was the real point of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, namely, that we do not pay the inspectors enough. That was the burden of his complaint. He was, of course, quite right to say that the responsibility was not entirely with my Department and that these things had to go through the great mill of the Civil Service machine as a whole.

I should find it difficult to make any powerful pronouncement on what is a pending pay claim; and I should be transgressing the general rule of my Department if I took sides in any kind of pay claim. There is obviously a case, and the hon. Gentleman is quite right in pointing out the very wide gap that now exists, for example, between a chief inspector and his colleagues in other parts of the Government service. That is an acknowledged fact, and I do not deny it.

The hon. Member was also right to point out that in the entry grades the position vis-à-vis starting rates in industry is very unfavourable by comparison. I do not want to challenge those two facts. The difficulty—and I cannot at the moment be very forthcoming on that front—is that until we have the Report of the Royal Commission on the Civil Service it is difficult to pronounce with any certainty on these matters. One of the difficulties is to know why certain pockets in the Civil Service tend to lag behind others, or appear to have been left behind. That is one of the points on which the Royal Commission will report.

The matter is best summed up in this way: we must try to recruit somehow more technically-trained people for the inspectorate. That does not stop our making more use of them by giving them technical training. I do not agree that the standard of the inspectorate is dropping at all rapidly. That is something that may come far in the future if we fail to recruit more people in the next few years.

A second point is that, on pay, I cannot do more than say that I think the hon. Gentleman is quite right, and is justified in pointing out that the factory inspectors are lagging behind. I can only say that we must wait for the Report of the Royal Commission, and see whether it gives any hope to groups within the Civil Service who are tending to lag behind—as I think the Factory Inspectorate is.

The last thing to say is that the factory inspector's career is a great and reward- ing one. I hope that any temporary financial disabilities will not put off the young men and young women who, in this new phase of British industry, want to come into this very important job.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Four o'Clock.